cafe claude in the financial district....prix fixe and outdoor seating in sf?
Even though I've lived here a long time, there are still places I haven't been which have been here as long or longer than me. Sometimes it just works out that way. My capricious tastes have a tendency to make me wander aimlessly sometimes trying to find something my taste buds will be like "sure, why not, let's try it." In the meantime I pass by innumerable places that I may or may not get back to. Cafe Claude is one of those places. It is considered a stalwart of the SF food scene having been around....um, not sure. It is tucked on a side street, more like an alley, a few blocks over from Chinatown.
Me and the SO were out and about one weekend day, I think we'd just seen an early movie ($6 tix!!) or something and now wanted to eat. We found ourselves heading toward Cafe de la Presse, a place I'm fond of for one dish and atmosphere. On this day it is rather crowded so we continue our journey down the street and I see the Cafe Claude sign. We've both heard of it but never tried it.
It's mid to late afternoon and the place is nearly empty, I mean it is an odd part of the day and the Financial District is pretty much a ghost town on weekends anyway. Fortunately enough, it is also a moderately decent day with sun and warmth and why not take this opportunity to sit outside! We'd have the whole area to ourselves--see:
Nice weather, outdoor seating and a prix fixe lunch option for $25?! What more could you want? Well, for me, I wasn't all that intrigued with the fixe as you didn't have a choice in what to get, the three dishes are already decided. I chose to pick from the menu but the SO opted for the fixe meal. Though of course we shared everything we got, mostly.
First course--salade d'hiver: endive, Asian pear, assorted herbs, Greek yogurt and roquefort (that's bleu cheese) dressing. I'm not the biggest endive fan, it comes off a little too bitter sometimes, but here, with all the other accoutrements, it worked for me. The bite of the bleu cheese wasn't too strong but enough to counter any bitterness the endive may have presented. Add in the sweet pear and it was like a nice crisp, refreshing summer salad. A good light start.
Second course--boudin blanc: traditional white sausage, frisee, French lentils, bacon lardons and truffle vinaigrette. A German sausage in a French lentil dish, interesting. White sausage is made of veal and back bacon--the meat from a pork loin basically. Seasonings vary but can include parsley, ginger, onion, nutmeg, cardamon and lemon. Honestly, I hated it, from its weird texture to odd off putting bitter flavor. Two bites of it and I was done. It was almost like the harshness or anise and caraway seeds mixed together for me.
The French lentils (designates where they come from) with chunks of bacon helped wash away the sausage flavor, but that was mainly because they were way salty. Having the bacon in there would have been enough but seems someone wanted to sprinkle salt over them too. It was all a bit much and I was happy now I didn't get this. I probably would have caused a scene by sending it back to the kitchen, and really, who wants to argue with a French chef.
The SO also said the lentils were salty but was mostly okay with the sausage. They thought the texture was a little odd too, but were fine with flavor as they tend to gravitate toward strong, bold seasoning that my palate sometimes rejects. To each his own as they say.
Third course--choux au chantilly: almond profiteroles with vanilla bean cream and orange gastrique. Well, this was a nice way to end the prix fixe. While I don't necessarily go in for orange, it was more a hint here and the puffs were light and airy and the cream custard like with a great strong vanilla flavor. Not too sweet, not too heavy, a pleasant topper to a meal with an unpleasant middle.
I wanted to stay in the $25 range of the SO's meal and managed to get two plates at that price. First up was the roasted baby beet salad with house fromage blanc (white cheese), wile arugula and honey dijon vinaigrette for $12. I am just a sucker for beets and cheese and this was no exception. Sweet roasted beets and a creamy herbed cheese mix well in my book as they offer up a salty sweet balance. I think the arugula was there to provide some possibly crunchy texture to offset the soft and you do get a little of that here. Might have gotten more if they had cut back on the dressing a bit, it was a little drenched. I liked the taste, just not so much of it.
If I'm gonna do a late weekend brunch at a French cafe, I'm gonna go with the croque madame. Ham, gruyere cheese, bechamel sauce on toasted French bread $13. Sigh, this was a disappointment. I guess they problem for me here is there are a couple places in town I've been too that do a spectacular version of this. See Cafe de la Presse above and also Butler and the Chef. After having theirs, you get these expectations that all French places are gonna produce a creamy, cheesey version you can melt into. The bread was dry and over toasted, there wasn't much of the sauce or cheese and the whole thing came out lukewarm at best. Just all around not all that tasty and I'm not even gonna get into that small handful of soft greens on the plate. Considering the price, it doesn't compare or hold up to others you can get in this town.
Prix fixe meals are moderately abundant in SF. Some let you pick your dishes, others lock you into pre-selected ones. Sometimes, depending on price, it is worth it and sometimes not. Cafe Claude is kind of a toss up with 2 out of 3, not bad, but you don't get a choice of dishes. Though, choosing from the rest of the menu isn't always the best either. Kind of makes this place a toss up to me. Somethings good, somethings not. I'm sure they have other things that people really like and gravitate toward, I mean, they have been around for awhile.
I'd put this on the see what you think and try list and keep in the back of my mind as always a possibility if we ever find ourselves downtown on a weekend and there aren't many other places to choose from. They do have that nice outdoor seating for the rare warm SF day and at least next time, I'd know what not to get.